Peer reviews can be notoriously difficult to get right, often walking the line between pointed feedback and thinly disguised aggression. In some workplaces, even using the word ‘peer review’ makes employees shiver. Alas, peer reviews have the opportunity to be so much more!
A well-constructed peer review system can provide better insight into the strengths and weaknesses of employees and even reveal hidden talent in the ranks. Proper feedback also contributes to the professional growth of employees over time, allowing room for self-evaluation and development.
So how can you build a peer review process that provides all of the benefits with none of the drawbacks? Here are four ways to build an effective peer review process that will benefit your team and give you better insight into the health of your company.
Set the tone before you start
Before you release a peer review template or begin the process, it’s critical to set criteria for the expected level of professionalism to prevent overly-negative feedback. Encourage honesty, but avoid making employees feel that any part of the review is an opportunity to ‘vent’ or further an agenda.
Keep it professional and constructive. One way to guide the review is to build questions into your assessment that limit the amount of writing the reviewer has to do, reducing the possibility of misunderstandings or overly-blunt statements that could hurt more than help.
Consider making it anonymous
Although anonymity may feel like a risky move, it provides the best opportunity for real, honest feedback. The reviewer will feel able to speak freely without the fear of negative consequences or retaliation.
Anonymity can also come with drawbacks though. In an unhealthy workplace culture, reviewers may use it as a weapon to tear down other employees or gain political power. Be aware of your work environment when reviewing peer assessments and examine each one with a critical eye.
The benefits of clear and honest feedback often outweighs the potentially unhelpful critiques of anonymous reviewers.
Of course, as managers, our job is to mitigate this risk. Check the reviews before they go out, and if you find something that doesn’t seem right, talk to the reviewer one-on-one first before providing it to the reviewee. There may be an issue brewing that you weren’t aware of, and this is the perfect opportunity to uncover and correct it.
As a manager, any feedback that gets back to your employee should be something that you deem constructive, important and relevant. It’s important to review what they receive and ensure it is all three.
Don’t tie rewards to reviews
Peer assessments are a helpful tool for giving managers perspective on how their employees operate. However, the nature of a peer review allows for a certain level of subjectivity, which makes it inappropriate to tie positive peer review feedback to workplace rewards.
If employees feel that rewards are a result of reviews they receive from their peers, they may focus more on politicking in the workplace than their day-to-day tasks. On the other hand, employees may also try to sabotage other employees’ potential bonuses or rewards with overly negative reviews.
A final negative when rewards are tied to peer views is the loss of importance the actual feedback carries when overshadowed by a reward. Employees may focus on the reward (or lack of) and lose sight of the value the assessment carries.
Remember, reviews should be to better employee performance, and rewards such as bonuses, salary increases and more are to reward employees for a job well done.
Keep it empowering
Assessments like peer reviews can feel scary. As humans, we’re trained to focus on the negative. Before you start the process, make it clear: this is a review meant to not only improve the company, but the individual, as well. You, as the manager, are on their side and you’re their coach through it all, so let them know that.
Seek to make employees feel engaged and empowered throughout the process by utilizing a template that allows for positive comments/assessments and recognizing ways the employee embodies company values.
Peer reviews can cause unnecessary stress or tension, so reassure your employees that these assessments exist to build a better team overall. Think of it like a regular doctor’s visit: although there may be nothing wrong, it never hurts to have a regular check-up to keep the body healthy and functioning.
If you’re still struggling to put together a process you feel is a good fit for your workplace, reach out. We’d be happy to talk to you about it and share different processes and ideas that could work for you.